Protecting the media from the police
By Henry Porter
The inept policing of public space is preventing reporters and photographers from going about their lawful business
Over 300 of Britain’s best-known photographers have signed a letter to protest against the use of terror laws to stop and search by police and the officious regiment of police community support officers (PCSOs). The letter comes after news that a photographer belonging to the NUJ – Andrew Handley of MK News in Milton Keynes – received £5,000 after being unlawfully held for taking pictures of a car accident.
What both these pieces of news demonstrate is that police nationally have, without proper legislative authority, taken it upon themselves to obstruct the rights of photographers and the duty of journalists to go about their business. As I have said before, there is an ongoing struggle about the control of public space, which has profoundly symbolic importance for a free society. What seems to be happening is that police using terror laws have decided that all public space has been re-designated as state space, over which the police and CCTV systems have exclusive photographic rights.
The letter to the Daily Telegraph, which is really quite mild considering the importance of this issue, says:
Some in the police, especially PCSOs, believe it is illegal to take any pictures of a police officer. This is because of ambiguous legislation, introduced earlier this year, which made it an imprisonable offence to collect “information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism”. Given the existence of Google Street View, we do not believe the legislation should be used against ordinary photographers.
Meanwhile, on the Milton Keynes case, the British Journal of Photography reports that Handley, a photographer for the past 34 years, was handcuffed, arrested and detained for eight hours after trying to take pictures of a car accident at Stony Stratford in Milton Keynes from behind a police cordon. His fingerprints and DNA were taken – it is not known whether police also took his photograph.
“This is not the first time a police officer has told me to stop taking pictures,” says Handley. “I explained that I was entitled to do my job and assumed I would be allowed to continue. Instead I found myself with my hands cuffed behind my back and in a police cell. As the hours ticked past I started to get more and more worried.http://www.wiseupjournal.com/wp-admin/post-new.php I thought it would all be cleared up in a matter of minutes.”
After the case was settled, Roy Mincoff, legal officer at the NUJ, said he hoped “good practice will prevail in the future, with police officers at all levels being properly trained in, and regularly reminded of, the special role of the media as a public watchdog, recording and reporting events in the public interest”.
Photographer questioned by police under anti-terror laws… for taking ‘too many’ pictures of town centre Christmas lights